Friday, 20 December 2013

Structural repairs needed at St Matthew's Academy

Two-weeks after the3towns revealed access to the games hall at St Matthew’s Academy in Saltcoats was to be restricted pending an investigation of cracks in the structure’s walls, it has now emerged that an additional steel framework requires to be installed at the facility.

The games hall has been out of use since November 19 after what a Council official described as “a potential issue with the steelwork that supports a section of the wall”.  Following an investigation by a structural engineer, it has been identified that a section of wall requires additional steel supports.  North Ayrshire Council hopes work will completed by December 16, allowing pupils to again use their indoor sports facility before the Christmas holiday.

St Matthew’s Academy is just six years-old, having been opened to pupils in August 2007.  The facility was one of four schools built using the now discredited Public Private Partnership (PPP) method of funding, at a cost to local taxpayers of £380m.

Under the PPP contract signed by NAC’s previous Labour administration, St Matthews Academy, Stanley Primary School in Ardrossan, Arran High School and Greenwood Academy in Dreghorn were built and are maintained by a private company.  As a penalty for the period during which St Matthew’s pupils have been unable to access their games hall, the3towns understands the Council is to seek a reduction of around £3,000 in the money it pays to the private contractor.

Of greater concern, though, is likely to be the fact a substantial structural problem has occurred at a relatively new school, particularly given the high cost to local taxpayers of building and maintaining the structure.  At the time Labour councilors embarked on the multi-million-pound PPP schools project, local people were promised “state-of-the-art” buildings and facilities.

However, the North Ayrshire Schools PPP Project became notorious within local government circles after it was revealed the then Labour-run Council had proceeded with awarding a £380m contract despite only ever having one credible and viable bid.  A second bid, claimed by the Council to represent ‘genuine competition’, had come from a company with no filed accounts, no office, no experience in building or maintaining schools and issued share capital of just £2.00.

In February 2009 the3towns reported that Ardrossan builder Alistair McKenzie had discovered mortar between concrete blocks in walls at the St Matthew’s games hall was soft.  Mr McKenzie’s company had been contracted to carry out repairs to the school, which, at the time, was just two-years old.  The builder told the3towns in 2009, “We worked at the four PPP schools doing repairs for months, with much of what we had to do being correcting faults that were left from when the schools were built.

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